The Painful Truth About Suicide

The Painful Truth About Suicide, Lynn Webster, MD, The Painful Truth

Suicide Rates Have Reached a 30-year High

Suicide rates have reached a 30-year high, according to the New York Times. “This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health,” according to Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard University.

It’s true that poverty, hopelessness, and health issues do factor into the suicide problem. In fact, an article just published in Rheumatology shows a link between people, especially women, who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and suicides. Co-morbid depressive disorders preceded the suicides 90% of the time. The conclusion we can draw is that the pain of RA for some patients causes depression which, in turn, can lead to suicide.

One out of four women who are victims of domestic violence commit suicide. It’s also likely that the suicide rate for those who experienced childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is nearly four times greater than that of the general population. Various studies have shown a link between suicide and CSA, although more information is needed.

Suicide: An Equal Opportunity Choice

But what most people fail to understand is that suicide is an equal opportunity choice. Anyone, from any walk of life, can choose suicide. It doesn’t matter whether you’re poor or wealthy, or famous or unknown. Suicide is the result of physical and emotional problems combined, in many cases, with the choice to self medicate.

Since suicide affects us all, because it can happen to any one of our loved ones, we can’t let it fly below our radar. We have to bring suicide into the light and talk about it honestly.

Interestingly, pop stars whom we assume are privileged to experience wealth, fame, and adulation are also at increased risk for suicide. According to CNN’s The Conversation, many artists — including Prince, Michael Jackson, Hank Williams, and Elvis Presley — die prematurely, and self-destructive behaviors are frequently the cause.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect that Elvis Presley would die for the same reason as your drug-addicted neighbor or the homeless person you might see everywhere you go. But the demons are within us all, and the seeds to the problems that lead to self-destructive behavior (and, perhaps, suicide) could be a childhood experience or life’s traumatic events.

Pop stars appear to have personal histories that are tumultuous and unsettling as part of their motivation to become famous. In other cases, they’re just trying to find a sense of calm or escape from the pressures of being famous.

Yes, fame can create just as much stress as the need to figure out where you can find shelter or food for your children and yourself if you’ve lost your job and have meager resources to fall back on.

Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Health Disorders are Predictors of Suicide

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders are predictors of suicide in pop stars and, of course, in chronic pain patients as well. Although suicide is often an impulsive act, it most often is preceded by a troubled life, and drugs — obtained either by prescription or on the street — are frequently used to self medicate those states.

This should be instructive to us as observers and may shine light on how to mitigate our own vulnerabilities to drug abuse and addiction. Getting our dream job or achieving a prestigious promotion at work isn’t enough to protect us from crashing emotionally and suffering physically. We need balance, support, and a sense of purpose and connection to others in order to maintain our emotional health and steer clear of self-medication opportunities.


Purchase my book The Painful Truth: What Chronic Pain Is Really Like and Why It Matters to Each of Us (available on Amazon) or read a free excerpt here.

the painful truth, lynn webster, md, chronic pain

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Copyright 2016, Lynn Webster, MD




  1. Scott michaels on June 30, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    How many of these people suffered from chronic pain that lasted for over 6 months and were on an opioid therapy. How many wereTAKEN OFF THAT LIFE SAVING THERAPY BECAUSE OF MEDIA HYPE AND DOCTORS FEAR OF DEA AND CDC IGNORANCE.

  2. Kim on July 1, 2016 at 5:55 am

    At first I believed that you had the people in pains interest in mind. You are just pushing this book. I didn’t need to read these few paragraphs to know this. Disappointed. Tell me something I don’t know.

    • Emma on July 7, 2016 at 9:00 am

      You hit the nail on the head. People that write books about suffering are those people that want to make money. I’m not reading this book. I already know all there is to know about pain and suffering. Hit by an ex cop while riding my bicycle I wish he had killed me that day. The pain I suffered day after day along with the depression I don’t need anyone to talk about it in a book. Give me the money and I’ll write a book.

  3. DJ on July 2, 2016 at 2:09 am

    My chronic eye pain, caused by eye surgery, is so severe that opioids are just the ONLY humane help that slightly takes the edge off.
    I live in debilitating invisible torture even with opioids.
    By the way, torture is terrifying. DAILY terror.
    I would NEVER consider suicide if I didn’t have this pain. ANY human being tortured would do the same.
    Legal, peaceful assisted suicide should be legal.
    As the Carter ruling in Canada read, citizens have a right to it for”grievous and irremediable” suffering. Over a year later a law was passed that excluded those very people.
    Dr Webster is an advocate for pain patients and his book and blog promote compassion, not anger, for people with chronic pain.

    • Vicki on July 6, 2016 at 1:26 am

      DJ, I feel your pain, Buddy. I’ve lived in pain 24/7 for over 24 yrs. My pain is from RSD aka CRPS (chronic regional pain syndrome ); via arthroscopic knee surgery.
      I agree with you in that any one dealing with this kind of intense pain WILL consider suicide at some point. I also strongly believe in assisted suicide.
      I have asked two people that are closest to me, to promise not to allow me to suffer when I’m at the point of incapacitation. I only pray that they have the strength and love to follow through.

  4. Barbara on July 3, 2016 at 5:18 am

    I signed a do not resuscitate with my PCP last week. I think it eased her mind a bit- I know it eased mine

  5. LMO'K on July 4, 2016 at 9:37 am

    I have been in chronic pain for over 20 years. It continues to increase. A couple of months ago I was taken off of the only pain medication that helped at all because of new “government regulations” and put on much less effective opioids. Now I can’t even get out of bed most days. I try to find things to think about besides the pain but being unable to function makes that difficult, to say the least.
    For me, suicide isn’t an “impulsive act” but rather something I think about constantly. Every day I weigh the pain I am in against the pain my suicide would cause my family. Recently, however, as I watch them worry and struggle with the helplessness they feel, I’ve begun to think that it would be a relief to them as well. They could deal with the pain and then move on with their lives.
    As I said earlier, it’s a constant thought.

  6. Syr on August 18, 2016 at 2:45 am

    I’m in chronic pain and constantly think about my “exit strategy.” The real problem is suicides by chronic pain patients will be counted as”overdose deaths” by opioids — so the real story about what the CDC has done will go unreported just like the deaths of all the chronic pain patients whose medication was taken away.

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